Cedric Elery, CAR T-cell patient
When chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant failed to defeat his acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), Cedric Elery received CAR T-cell therapy. About one week after the infusion, Cedric felt normal. Several weeks later, his blood showed no signs of the disease. That was in the spring of 2018, and he’s been in remission ever since.

Currently, CAR T-cell therapy is available for patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (children and young adults) and certain types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (adults) who do not respond to standard therapy or who have relapsed after at least two other kinds of treatment failed.  

Our physicians have the experience and expertise to evaluate each patient to determine if CAR T-cell therapy has a high chance for success.

The FDA recently approved CAR T-cell therapy for the following conditions:

Adults

  • Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (for young adults age 25 and younger)
  • Certain types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma including:
    • Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL)
    • Primary mediastinal large B-cell lymphoma
    • High grade B-cell lymphoma

Children

  • Acute lymphoblastic leukemia

Clinical trials of CAR T-cell therapy are being offered at the University of Chicago Medicine for the following conditions:

  • Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (for adults age 26 and older)
  • Mantle cell lymphoma

It is expected that additional clinical trials will open for more types of blood cancer as well as for solid tumors in the near future.

Approximately 40 to 60 percent of patients who undergo CAR T-cell therapy experience side effects. Some of these symptoms can be managed with intravenous fluids and acetaminophen. But CAR T-cell therapy often triggers serious conditions, usually within five days of infusion. These may include:   

  • Flu-like symptoms, such as fever, fatigue, shortness of breath and chills
  • Racing heart beat
  • Drop in blood pressure
  • Neurologic conditions, such as headaches and seizures
  • Short-term memory and cognitive issues

These symptoms are reversible but may require a stay in an intensive care unit. Researchers are actively studying better ways to reduce the side effects of CAR T-cell therapy.

Patients who undergo CAR T-cell therapy typically do not lose their hair or experience some of the other common side effects of chemotherapy, such as nausea and vomiting. 

Once the patient completes the treatment and returns home, risk of cancer recurrence is considered low. Patients can be monitored by their primary physician while staying in communication with the UChicago Medicine CAR T-cell therapy team.

If CAR T-cell therapy is not an option, there may be other treatments available. As recognized leaders in research and clinical trials of emerging therapies for cancer, we are able to bring the latest treatments to our patients sooner. Advances in genetic testing and imaging, as well as innovative combinations of immunotherapy, chemotherapy, radiation, stem cell transplant and surgery, are offering patients more diagnostic tools and treatments — and more hope for a cure — than ever before. 

CAR T-cell therapy has the potential to change the course of treatment for many types of cancer. Results from CAR T-cell therapy have been impressive, but the treatment is still relatively new and requires more research. Studying patients who participated in CAR T-cell clinical trials over time will provide more information about the treatment and its long-term effectiveness.

Researchers and physicians at UChicago Medicine, in the U.S. and around the world, believe that CAR T-cell therapy will serve as a foundation for even more and better cancer treatments. We are actively investigating the expansion of CAR T-cell therapy to treat other types of blood cancers as well as solid tumor cancers.

UChicago Medicine is at the forefront of care and discovery in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Our more than 200 oncology experts work in teams to provide a multidisciplinary approach and personalized care for each patient. And our patients have access to more cancer clinical trials than any other hospital in the region.

We are a National Cancer Institute (NCI) Comprehensive Cancer Center — one of only two in Illinois. As a leading center for phase 1 and other early-phase clinical trials, our physician-scientists are creating new treatment protocols that later become the standard of care elsewhere. 

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